by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
This is the third in a series of blog posts on characteristics that define great leaders.
When I started writing this series, I was curious about what attributes people looked for in people they report to at work. To get the fastest and most random sampling of answers, I took to social media and asked people to tell me about their best boss ever. I was not surprised by the answers. One of the top responses was a boss who teaches and develops employees.
“I had the best boss ever,” said Barrie Glascock, a respondent on social media. “She wanted to understand the issues and inner workings in all departments. She used that knowledge to teach everyone around her, even those out of her supervision. I would have followed her off a cliff, because I knew she had a plan and had my best interest always.
Great leaders take an interest in their employees. They care about the people who do their jobs well and want to see them succeed. They teach, they motivate and they help their employees advance in their careers. Following are some tips for being a leader who teaches and develops the people who report to you.
Help them create a career plan or employee development plan
As a leader, your job is to help your employees identify their strengths and weaknesses. Use that information to help them achieve their career goals. If they are a valuable employee, help them determine if they can advance within your financial institution, and do what you can to set them on that track. Something that always helped me when I worked at a financial institution was a section on my annual performance evaluation for career goals. My supervisor always took the time to work with me on that section during my performance review.
Train them for their future job
Part of the development process is helping prepare your employees to reach future career goals. If you do not have the skillset to do this, connect them with others in your financial institution who do. Encourage them to talk with people in positions they may want some day. Teach them leadership skills. Approve them for outside training that will better hone their skills. If you financial institution has a college tuition benefit, help them determine if they could benefit from that based on their career goals.
“My best boss gave constructive advice, not criticism” said Kim Martinez, another social medial respondent. “She really wanted us to succeed. She always asked what I needed them to do for me to make me successful. I loved her.”
Be willing to let them go
This might be one of the hardest things a leader has to do, because it means losing valuable employees who get promoted. I have known supervisors who did everything right until they got to this step. I have seen supervisors intentionally lie about an employee’s performance so they wouldn’t get promoted and therefore would not have to be replaced. The question you have to ask yourself is why would you spend so much effort helping someone advance and then not let them go when their big break comes. Great leaders have to do the right thing, even when it makes your job temporarily more challenging.
When Mark Arnold started his career as a marketing coordinator, he was admittedly doing a bad job. At one point, his boss told him, “You will always be a failure in marketing.” He was crushed and transferred to the collections department. Four years later, he went back into marketing and had a supervisor who poured his life into Mark’s career. Countless financial institutions have benefitted as a result. Great leaders make all the difference. Be the leader who makes a positive difference by helping your employees succeed.
by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
This is the second post in a series about qualities that define great leaders and how you can live those qualities in the workplace.
When I worked at a credit union many years ago, I reported to a wonderful leader who did so much to help me flourish and grow in my career. In many ways, I owe my career path to Lori Daniel. She was a fantastic role model and figured out very quickly in her leadership role that surrounding herself with a team of people who were good at what they did was the best way to be successful.
“A leader can’t be an expert in all areas, so a good one will hire the right people who are great at what they do, and then get out of the way and let them do it,” said Daniel, owner of The Daniel Group, a promotional products company. “For example, I have never been a numbers person but if I am in charge of a budget or determining the profitability of a marketing campaign, I need to make sure there is a numbers expert on my team to oversee those left-brain type of activities that are not in my comfort zone. A good leader will also NOT hire like-minded people. It’s important to have different personalities, backgrounds and viewpoints represented within the team.”
If you read the first post in our leadership series, you know “bad bosses” are the number one reason people leave their jobs. Typically, these bad bosses fail to make their employees feel valued, violate a trust, take credit for work they don’t do and/or fail to empower their employees (among other things).
Empowering employees is challenging for leaders who are not comfortable relinquishing control. However, when you empower your employees to take on tasks and make responsible decisions, you take pressure off yourself. You clear up time to focus on other things they cannot do. You make them feel important.
“Most employees want to be empowered and given the opportunity, they will run with it and thrive. Those rare gems make a leader’s job a breeze,” said Daniel.
Here are three ways to help empower your employees.
- Trust them to do the job they were hired to do
Think about it this way. Why did you hire these people if you didn’t find them capable of doing the job? If you have put in place a team of experts, and you have properly trained them and communicated expectations, give them the opportunity to show you what they can do.
- Provide the tools and information they need to make decisions
Empowerment doesn’t mean you give up all control. You’re still the leader. Train them and give them the right tools to make good decisions. Whenever they come to you with a question, ask them what they think the solution is. After they respond, give them your answer. By doing this, you help them grow and reduce the amount of responsibility on your shoulders.
“You have to let people know that you are there if and when they do need help,” Daniel said. “It’s also important for leaders to give their team the tools they need to effectively do their job (training, budget, supplies, resources, staffing, etc.).”
- Delegate authority and provide opportunities
Don’t just delegate the grunge work. That’s not empowerment. Delegate decision-making opportunities like taking your place in meetings or on teams and committees. Involve them in projects that expose them to new ideas. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Add new responsibilities gradually as they prove themselves capable of handling more.
As cliché as it sounds, a team and its leader are only as strong as their weakest link. Don’t let that link be your leadership. Like Daniel says “Well-trained, empowered employees working in a team environment makes a business more successful. Satisfied employees + satisfied customers = increased profitability.”
This is the first post in a series about qualities that define great leaders and how you can live those qualities in the workplace.
by Colleen Cormier, Account Executive for On The Mark Strategies
A friend of mine was reminiscing recently about a former “boss” of hers who always made her staff feel appreciated. It was obvious by my friend’s facial expressions and the tone of her voice that she had a great deal of respect and gratitude for this supervisor, even so many years later.
“She would leave little Post-it notes on our desks that said ‘good job’ or ‘thank you’ for doing something that was already part of our job,” my friend said. “Then all year long, she would keep a record about those things and recognize us at the end of the year. I never felt more appreciated than I did when I worked with her.”
Appreciation in the workplace matters. For many people, appreciation is a basic human need. Your employees spend more time at work than they do with their families Monday through Friday. They want to feel like their time away from home makes a difference.
Appreciation also impacts your bottom line. The Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine and Global News (among others) all report that a “bad boss” is the number one reason why employees quit their jobs. According to a report published by Bersin by Deloitte, companies lose an average of $100,000 for every employee who leaves. Interim reduction in labor costs, lost productivity, cost per-hire and the first year of orientation and training all factor into that cost. You also have to consider potential loss in client relationships and the cost of the knowledge walking out your door. That’s significant for something within the company’s control.
Appreciation and recognition do not have to cost a lot of money or take a great deal of time. Here are some easy and inexpensive ways to make your employees feel appreciated.
Say Thank You
It doesn’t get much easier than this. When an employee reaches a work goal or does something notable, say thank you or congratulations. Write them a note and leave it on their desk. Recognize them in a team meeting or team e-mail. Fill their cubicle with balloons. Make sure to do it in a timely manner before the moment has passed.
When your team reaches a goal, order pizza and celebrate their accomplishments. Surprise them with morning donuts or breakfast tacos. Buy (or make) a congratulations cake. In addition to recognizing them, you are a creating good memories by giving your team a chance to gather and celebrate.
Keep a stash of small gift cards ($5 to $10) to places your employees enjoy eating or shopping and reward them periodically for meeting a goal or going above and beyond. Or, give them special tokens they can save up for larger rewards, like a half day off work. Who doesn’t love receiving a gift?
Appreciation matters. Great leaders appreciate their employees.
Get your attention? Good – I hope so.
Now that you have had a moment to catch your breath, let me explain.
British statesman Sir Winston Churchill said: “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find truer words in the strategic planning process arena.
Your strategic plan, once hammered out and put on paper, is really nothing more than a tool for direction, a compass for your credit union to follow in shifting winds. Too often, credit union executives come out of the strategic planning process completely fixated upon that which is on paper. Guess what? Times change. The markets change. The ripple effect of an interconnected globalist economy means a drop in the bucket in Beijing can be a tidal wave once it reaches Bakersfield.
Your credit unit strategic plan absolutely must include the fluidity to adapt to the only inevitability in the business world — change. You simply cannot look at your credit unit strategic plan like your television remote control; in other words, something with which you can tap a button and make the world bend to your will. It just doesn’t work that way. Using that analogy, a better way to look at your strategic plan might be like the dial on the radio. Don’t like the station you’re listening to or is it coming in fuzzy? Reach for the dial until you find something you like better of that comes in crystal clear.
One of the greatest values of strategic planning is not the document itself but the time in which your team puts into it. Those days facing each other across the table are invaluable when it comes to confronting differences, acknowledging past successes and failures as well as hammering out some kind of general consensus about the future of your credit union.
Obviously, your credit union must have a strategic plan in order to move forward. What that plan requires to succeed, however, is flexibility in its planners when the inevitable scat hits the fan. Perhaps the best way to cap off every strategic plan is with the famous Boy Scout motto, “be prepared.” Be prepared for the unknown. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for your strategic plan to require considerable updating the day after the ink dries.
But you know what? This is a good thing. Adaptability is a linchpin of the successful evolutionary process. If your credit union become so bogged down in the printed page of the strategic plan, it is far less likely to bounce back to rapidly changing elements in the financial services world entirely outside its control.
This is then when your credit union leadership team will most realize the value of the strategic plan that, while existing on hard copy paper, is also is fluid and malleable as water flowing around a stone.
Strategic planning, in other words, is not a destination. It is a journey. Are you ready to take that first step?
During strategic planning sessions, credit union executives usually storm the beach like pirates in search of plunder. Whooping and hollering, sabres drawn and pistols at the ready, they are prepared to take on anything and anybody. Nothing will stand between them and their goal of hidden riches.
Great. Sometimes you can storm the beaches and accomplish amazing things. While there’s nothing wrong with this positive attitude, credit unions will benefit equally (if not more) from a realistic assessment of the things they actually cannot accomplish.
Look at it this way – your credit union is comprised of a limited number of people. Those people, no matter how talented, have a limited number of hours per day they can work. And if you work them (or expect them to work) more than what is reasonable, you will drive that horse right into the ground.
Similarly, your credit union has limited assets in terms of budget. If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood CFO. He or she is usually delighted to tell you exactly what you can and cannot spend. Your strategic plan may call for amazing things, but if you don’t have the bucks to back them up, you’re chasing fool’s gold.
Your credit union is also most likely limited to what it can handle operations-wise. While having too much of anything is often blithely described as “a good problem to have,” in the credit union world, nothing could be further from the truth. The size and scope of your operations allows you to serve a certain bandwidth of members and their needs at any one time. If you take on more than you can chew, all you will do is disappoint and disenchant members and limit the opportunity to expand wallet share amongst them.
People, money and operations are just a few of the limitations your credit union faces when it comes to strategic planning. Hiring an outside facilitator can help you realize this in such a way that does not allow for internal finger-pointing and blank.
Certainly, the goal of every credit unit is to grow so that it can hire additional people, earn additional money and increase its operational capacity. However, for your strategic planning process to be successful, it was also included a healthy dose of realizing those things which it cannot accomplish, and why.
Anything else risks burning out your people, spending money you don’t have and stretching the limits of your operational resources. These are all recipes for disaster when it comes to strategic planning.
Strategic planning sessions should never be the same. But all too often they can devolve into a repeat of previous years. Even the usual exercises, like the SWOT analysis, are overused tools that result in a boring session.
Rather than repeat the same process, maybe it’s time to flip your planning session. In other words, “flip” your session so that it starts before the event.
Flipping your planning session actually begins with a mindset. Way too many credit unions and banks think of strategic planning as a “session” or a “date” on the calendar. It is neither. Strategic planning is a process. Understanding that concept means you can change how you plan.
Here are three ways to “flip” your planning session:
- Conduct a pre-session—If you are only devoting one day a year to strategic planning, then your process is flawed. Rather than trying to cram everything into one day or even a day and half, consider doing a pre-session “session” so to speak. These typically take place several months before the actual session and help resolve some key issues, such as overall vision, direction and issues that must be addressed.
- Read key material—Have you ever experienced one of those sessions where some of the people attending didn’t have a clue what is going on in the industry? One way to avoid that challenge is to “flip” your session and require participants to read select content ahead of time. And by this we don’t mean the usual financial reports or MCIF data. As an example, for our clients we prepare a pre session packet of four or five short articles regarding key issues challenging the financial services industry. These help ensure our clients are prepared for high-level strategic discussions.
- Survey participants—The first time participants are exposed to addressing key issues should never be the “day of” the event. Rather, gather their thoughts ahead of time by asking important questions. Not sure what you should ask? Then check out these 10 questions to ask at your planning session. Compile the answers either on flip charts or a PowerPoint so that when attendees gather for the actual meeting you don’t waste precious time. In essence you have “flipped” much of the work.
The most successful financial institutions plan all year long. If you want to follow that same pattern, then begin by flipping your strategic planning session. For more information about On The Mark Strategies trademarked strategic planning process, click here.
Note: this entry originally ran on CU Insight.
Traditionally, strategic planning sessions for credit unions occurs in the fall. However, after partnering with dozens of credit unions as a facilitator on strategic plans over the last few years, I can safely say that a growing number both plan and conduct their sessions at other times of the year.
We remind our clients regularly that strategic planning is a process, not a date on a calendar. Therefore, any time of the year is a good time to take a look at ways to improve your next strategic planning session.
Credit unions spend a great deal of time and energy making the commitment and investment in strategic planning. During those crucial days together, executive leadership teams and members of the Board of Directors contribute ideas and dialogue that will both guide and direct the credit union for years to come. Consider the following ideas to improve your next strategic planning session.
- Invite a more job-diverse team. Typically, strategic planning sessions are attended by members of the executive leadership team and the Board of Directors. For your next strategic planning session, however, consider assembling a more job or role-diverse mix. Try to include younger employees (think Millennials) and those you have identified as your “star performers.” Not only will a more eclectic team contribute potentially game-changing ideas, you are also grooming them for future success by making them feel like an important part of the credit union.
- Give your members a voice at the strategic planning table. Not necessarily in person – however, you can provide invaluable member feedback in the strategic planning process by conducting interviews and surveys beforehand. Quiz members about what’s important to them in a financial institution and what they expect. Present this information during the strategic planning session and, with actual member input, you’ll find yourself more likely to act upon ideas important to the membership and less flying blind. One exercise we do is “The Empty Chair Exercise.” Place an empty chair somewhere in the meeting room as a reminder that if a member were in that chair, what would they tell us?
- Clarify the roles of strategic planning and tactical/budgeting. These are very different functions. Strategic planning takes a look at your credit union’s directives from a 30,000-foot level over the next several years. We call it strategic for a reason, rather than tactical. Tactical goes into the daily operations of the credit union. The same can be said for budgeting. If you aren’t careful, a strategic planning session can rapidly devolve into a tactical/budgeting snipe hunt. If everybody on your team focuses too much on numbers and tactics, you are likely to miss the forest for the trees and steer your strategic planning session straight into the confusing high grass of tactics and budget.
A strategic planning session is like a good map or GPS in that it provides reassuring guidance and direction for your credit union for years to come. By assembling a more role-diverse strategic planning team, giving members a voice at the table and clarifying the roles of strategic versus tactical/budgeting, you can help ensure your credit union’s next strategic planning session provides a terrific return on that investment.
Strategic plans come in all shapes, sizes and levels of usefulness. When done well, they serve as the centerpiece of an organization’s operations. When not done well, they usually lack any real strategy. Often, they become an annual check-list of what needs to be done, instead of providing direction for future initiatives. Long-term plans that lack strategy general become paper weights sitting on a shelf and collecting dust until the next planning session.
Do not let this happen to your strategic plan. Instead of wasting valuable time creating something nobody intends to follow, spend your time putting real strategy in your strategic plan.
Focus on the Big Picture
Strategy is about the big picture. It’s the “what” of your strategic plan. In other words, what does your financial institution hope to accomplish? What will make us sustainable for the long term? Do we have the right business model in place to make us competitive? These are some of the questions your executive team should ask in your planning session. All too often, planning sessions stall because executives don’t think broadly enough. Answer the big questions first, then spend time on tactics, which answer how your financial institution will carry out those big picture initiatives.
Choose a Destination
If you get in your car with no destination in mind, there’s a good chance you’ll waste time and gas driving around aimlessly. It’s no different with a strategic plan that lacks direction. Everything your employees do should tie back to strategy, which is tied to your mission and vision and core values. It’s all connected. If your executive team hasn’t decided where it’s going in three to five years, or even next year for that matter, you are driving in reverse without even realizing it.
Make high-level decisions
Do we need to build more branches? Do we need to close a branch or two? What consumers should we be targeting? What factors are keeping us from being a better financial institution? What is the one thing we must do to grow our financial institution in the coming year? These are the types of questions you should answer in your planning session. Decide the “what” part of your strategy first, then focus on how you will do it.
If I asked you to describe your financial institution’s company culture, what would your answer be? Does your financial institution even have a company culture?
Every company has a culture whether they realize it or not. That culture is defined by values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, which often start at the executive level and trickle down. Ideally, a company’s core values is at the heart of its culture, but often the words that hang on the wall are not the actions employees are encouraged to take.
This matters, because your customers or members experience your culture even if employees don’t think you have one. They experience it in your products and services. They experience it in the pride your employees demonstrate for your financial institution. They experience it in the way your employees treat them.
That’s a great thing if your culture is one in which employees feel valued, are empowered to make decisions and love their jobs. Think about how happy Starbucks employees are all the time. They greet customers with a smile and a chipper personality even at 6 a.m. Could you imagine how ugly it would get at your local Starbucks that early in the morning if the culture was toxic? It would be every man for himself until the coffee is poured.
That is why culture matters so much. Toxic cultures yield toxic environments, which yield toxic employees who deliver bad service. People remember how someone makes them feel. If your customers or members get treated badly, that could be the difference between them banking with you or your competitor.
If your financial institution’s culture is toxic or perhaps just needs some work, you can change it. Start with your core values and your leadership team. Whatever those values are, your leaders have to live them daily in their jobs. They can’t pick and choose which ones work for them personally. They have to carry out the values established by your financial institution every single day. If they don’t, their employees won’t either.
Second, leaders must review those values with their staff and outline the expectations that come with those values. If someone can’t or won’t live up to them, that is grounds for termination.
Thirdly, hire people whose personalities and values fit your culture. Skills are important, but skills can be learned or increased with proper training and education. Personalities are inherent and generally don’t change. If you already know a candidate’s personality doesn’t fit with your culture, it shouldn’t matter how much skill they have for the job. They will be toxic to your culture.
Your financial institution’s culture is critical to your brand and vice versa. If they aren’t working together in harmony, your financial institution will struggle to grow and succeed.
As you work towards the bottom of the funnel in your strategic planning process, you come to establishing goals. Since there are probably plenty of voices represented at your strategic planning table, it makes sense that your efforts will generate a number of goals.
This is a point at which some strategic planning processes break-down. The goal of your plan is not to develop a laundry list of pet projects from every department. Rather, it is to identify goals and initiatives that can best position your credit union for success in the coming years.
Prioritizing these goals is critical. And, yes, there are some goals that, for a number of reasons, you may have to scrap altogether. Once you have paired your overall goal list down to a manageable number (while it varies from credit union to credit union, a good rule of thumb is no more than five), your team must now turn its attention towards ranking these goals in order of importance.
Toes will be stepped on. Egos will be bruised. This is to be expected. Some people will see their cherished initiative tabled for a year while others receive priority status. The participants in your strategic planning process must have thick skin and realize that for the greater good of the credit union, this necessary prioritization of goals is a good thing (and not a personal affront).
In order to work, your strategic plan must be easily reduced to a lowest common denominator of useful initiatives. Too many goals translates to too many cooks in the kitchen and your once valiant strategic plan will quickly devolve into a quagmire of unrealized potential and squandered opportunity.
Let your strategic planning team know ahead of time that goal prioritization is a necessity. This information, shared up-front, can help lessen the sting of seeing a particular goal tabled and will prep your team for the strategic planning challenges ahead.